What does creativity have to do with your international life?

I’ve recently come across a very interesting presentation on creativity, one of many from the Warsaw School of Social Psychology YouTube psychology channel. As I am always looking for new topics to write about, or innovative and effective tools and approaches for my training sessions, I found it very useful. As a pragmatist I couldn’t refrain from thinking of practicing it immediately. At the same time I was relating to a lifestyle myself and many others I know have, a lifestyle of living and working abroad and traveling frequently. I wondered how such a lifestyle can support or hamper creativity.

Here are just a few points I picked up from the lecture and reflected on:

Habits are the biggest enemies of creativity.Luckily that one works as an advantage for an international life. Moving abroad, meeting new people, finding new ways of doing daily errands, observing habits of others and adjusting to them, make your brain develop new neural network paths which definitely support creativity to a great extent.

On top of that, learning a new language not only makes you more effective at communicating to the new fellows but also develop new neural network paths and become more creative in other areas.

On the other side, frequent changes may cause stress which hampers your creative side. A new environment, new people, and frequent moves may be challenging at the beginning and block your creativity. You automatically switch into “fight or flight” mode which doesn’t help your creative side at all. You need to get out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to the unknown, an environment you are not familiar with, you are unknowledgeable about, where you lose your status and need to gain it back to feel comfortable, safe and secure again. When you experience the “fight or flight” mode the blood circulates towards a part of your brain responsible for habits - the opposite side of the creative brain.

How to overcome such a challenge and make sure you will take advantage of this “creativity-conducive” environment? There are no short-cuts, it will take time. However by making yourself comfortable in the new place, familiar about local practices, and knowledgeable about new culture will help you remove the unnecessary stress which hampers your creativity. One style does not fit all. There are many strategies you can adopt that will work best for you. Pre-departure training and coaching, self-study, reading books or watching movies about places you are going to, and most of all emerging into new culture. It really depends on the way you learn most effectively. Do you prefer getting ready by learning theoretically or trying out new things and learning based on your experiences? 

Once you get into new habits, keep in mind, they make you feel comfortable about the new place and at the same time are your creativity enemies! Try to combine both sides! Make yourself comfortable, but not too much. Don't stop exploring the new country, new culture, new people you meet on your way. There is a lot to learn and experience. Don't limit yourself!

Perceptual filters can work in both directions

The new place, work, or a team themselves are not stressful. What causes stress is what we think about the given situation. If you consider moving abroad and working in a new international team as stressful or difficult that's what you’ll experience. However if you acknowledge the challenge and at the same time will look at it as a new opportunity, appreciating all its benefits your experience will cause less stress and provide more joy. You can’t fully eliminate the anxiety caused by such changes but your approach may determine your reactions and ultimately creativity! Ask yourself, what are your filters?

Cognitive humbleness fosters creativity

Having no answers to some questions makes you ask questions that trigger innovative answers. Thus, diversity in your workplace provokes constructive discussions and innovative solutions. Diversity is defined by various differences between people, not only cultural or national. All differences in background or experiences are of a great value as long as they are managed effectively. 

Getting back to an international setup, living and working abroad, being surrounded by an international environment, even working remotely in an international team may a great advantage if you open up and admit those differences without judging them, but instead acknowledging them and becoming curious.

Self-awareness plays an important role here, knowing what you don't know, or in our case, noticing the differences and similarities is crucial in overcoming new challenges. Observations, respect to surrounding differences, conversations with local people, listening to them and learning from it is a must in becoming self-aware and finding out what you don't know. This is the only way to become culturally effective, more creative and benefit from such circumstances.

Low self-esteem doesn’t help your creativity

Your inner critique who keeps on telling you “you’re not good enough”, "you are new here so you shouldn’t speak out”, “you have no clue how we do things here” is very detrimental to your creativity. Your inner critique installed within you but hidden deeply when you are in a familiar place, may suddenly wake up when you move to another country and feel less certain. Self-awareness is your best friend again. Ask yourself how you feel about yourself. Working on low self-esteem may need a coach’s or a therapist’s help. However you may also try to apply the above techniques. Find out what will make you feel more confident and certain. For some, interactions with friendly people may work best, while others will choose a new interesting hobby over other solutions. It’s all up to you.

No one says it is easy. As always, there are pros and cons in anything we do. Enhancing your creativity, innovativeness and openness are huge advantages of your international life not to be missed! Comment and share your experience below the text!